Tiny Nestegg? Retire abroad!


Can't afford to live on your pension or Social Security in the U.S.? Why not find a cheaper place to live? No, not Canada - the other communist mecca... that's right, China!

Ha ha! I know I'll get all kinds of flack for that one. I'm just kidding, Comrade, don't take me seriously! I know China isn't communist anymore.

NPR, my favorite news source, offered up a story yesterday filed by Keva Rosenfeld, whose mother-in-law (I'm not sure if it is mother-in-law per se so much as his partner, Karen Murphy's, mother) has chosen to retire in China, finding it much too difficult to live off of $400 a month in the United States. Interestingly enough, the old gal (she's 75) has chosed Shanghai, arguably the most expensive city in China, to spend out her remaining days.

Although the story promises some amusing tales of generational misunderstandings, it's much shorter than it should be, told from Keva's viewpoint, as he goes to Shanghai with his wife for a visit with his mother-in-law. There is a short discussion about how small a dingy the Shanghai apartment is, but little about how and where she shops for groceries, if she has learned to barter for her gorceries, if she has made any friends, or what it's like to live in Shanghai knowing absolutely no Mandarin AT ALL. Where does she go for health care? How does she explain what she needs in an emergency?

China is a place you can't really avoid hearing about these days, so I hate to add to the hullabaloo. Slate featured a couple installments about traveling to China for medical treatments a while back.

Having lived in China, I can attest that unless you live in a big city like Shanghai or Beijing or Shenzhen, you're likely to have a hard time adjusting as an American. Not that the big cities are easy, either. Things are made immeasurably more difficult if you don't have any language skills. However, although Keva can be heard in the NPR story suggesting that no one in Shanghai speaks English, this is most certainly not the case.

I'd be really curious to know if this will be a trend among the Baby Boomers (Murphy's mother is not a boomer, but I can see boomers doing this), or if living in China is really more for people like Ms. Murphy's mother, who is described as a "bohemian". And if Westerners start moving en masse to China, will it still be a viable place to live on less than $500 a month?

Disclaimer: The links and mentions on this site may be affiliate links. But they do not affect the actual opinions and recommendations of the authors.

Wise Bread is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Lynn Truong's picture

My bf and I have talked about retiring in Malaysia (not when we're 65, more like when we're 35) so we can relax and travel for... however long we want.  They have a program there called MMSH (Malaysia my second home) and unlike Thailand's retirement program, there's no age minimum.  We can live off of $600/mo in relative comfort.  I think there's more people in Malaysia that can speak English than China, too.  And it's a beatiful place.

Andrea Karim's picture

Here's a link to the second home thingie Lynn mentioned. I've wanted to travel to Malaysia for a long time, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that I was worried about the radical religious unrest in Indonesia spreading to Malaysia. The fooda lone, though, might be enough to make me change my mind.

Guest's picture

I have heard about retired US military officers moving to Spain. China and far east, that must be some new trend. That website says over 8000 people have done it.

Will Chen's picture

True story:  I recently asked my parents whether they would enjoy retiring in China.  They said no.

When I asked them why, they said "we don't really want to live in a place with so many Chinese people."


Lynn Truong's picture

will, i know exactly what you're talking about.  i've heard more reacist comments about chinese people from my parents than all my other experiences put together...multiplied a few times.

Andrea Karim's picture

Yeah, if I didn't want to live around Chinese people, I'd probably not go to China, either. As it is, I'm trying to find a condo in Chinatown. Go figure.

I think once you get used to living in a certain situation, you get freaked out by going back, even if it's what you were used to. I wasn't in China for quite a year, but when I came back, I kept looking around my hometown and feeling odd that there were so many WHITE people.

Then again, there is the habit of thinking that your original culture is somehow inferior to that of your adopted culture. They call that whitewashing, no?

Will Chen's picture

My parents look down on Chinese people but refuse to properly assimilate into the new culture.  So when they meet other Chinese people, they criticize them for either being too Chinese or too Westernized.

Good thing I tune out my parents 99% of the time.  =)

Guest's picture

Are there any restrictions for retiring in china.
I will be 50 yrs old and would like to spend a couple
Of years living in china. Have visited many times and
Love the country. Does one have to have a job lined
Up in china to get a residents visa. Or can a person live There and do nothing but eat sleep and travel.
Thanks nick

Andrea Karim's picture

My guess is that you would have to live there on a tourist visa, and leave the country every... however many days it is - like, 90 - and get a new visa. I'm not sure if the Chinese government is eventually going to start a retiree program; they might.

Here's a list of Chinese visas with application information. There is a residence visa, but I'm not sure how hard it is to get it.

Glad you love the country - it's a great place to live.

Guest's picture

Hi guys:

Lots has been spoken but who is really planning to retire in China?

Well, I am and I am documenting that planning process. If you are really exploring a RV concept in China - where clean air living, availability of amenities, healthcare and living amongst English-speaking holiday/retirees sounds inviting, please head off to: http://www.chinese-culture.net/html/rv_subscribe.html

Cost of living is shooting up everywhere. Even the big cities in China are not really low cost anymore. And what about the crowd and pollution.

Check out my site to see how I have found that little right corner in China.

Guest's picture
Bobby Dodd

Ken, I found no comparison in China to the crowds in NYC. Like the US, there are areas of greater and lesser pollution but pristine areas are not difficult to find.

Guest's picture

Thinking about retiring abroad? then you must consider Panama, why? I bet you have at least 100 questions ask me whatever you want? I came to Panama 10 years ago to visit my mothers side of the family , i knew then that this country was a gem, now and days any one who visits this paradise see it as a diamond. Ask me what ever you would like about panama from the beaches to the mountains and back to a modern metropolis I know this country inside out , my city Panama I would love to tell you about it and who know´s perhaps one day you might call it home.

David V

Few Facts about Panama

Modern Maturity magazine (the AARP magazine with the largest circulation of any consumer magazine in the world – upward of 20 million subscribers) recently rated Boquete as the fourth-best retirement destination in the world.

International Living's Global Retirement Index 2005 rated Panama as the #1 best place in the world to retire.

Fortune magazine's 2005 Retirement Guide chose Boquete as one of the five best places in the world to retire.
Political Risk Services named Panama one of the top three countries in the hemisphere for best-risk investments.

According to The Fraser Institute in Canada, Panama is at the top of the list of the world's freest economies, ranked eighth with Australia, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

Guest's picture

My husband and I are considering retiring in Panama. Would love to hear more about it. We have never been but with prices the way they are now, who can retire in the good old us of a.

Guest's picture
mistress of the sea


Your comment is out place. This article and comments are about retiring in China. You should post in sites where people is interested in Latin America, not where people is interested in China and/or Asia.

FYI Panama is a very expensive country and your information is very bogus everything you mention is superficial and too general.

China and Asia as in general their economy is booming, their Health Care can compete with USA and Europe. Last but not least their cost of living is affordable for retirees and for those who works their good salaries can help you to live a very decent life!

Guest's picture

I have toyed with the idea of living elsewhere when I retire. What I have been trying to figure out is how people keep up with the requirements to return to the states or leaving to renew a visa.

The cost of a flight to the US from Europe or anywhere else far flung is rather expensive relative to someone living on a limited income. If you have to return to the states every few years that could put a big dent in your finances.

The other issue seems to be accessing medical care. It can be a real headache navigating health care here. Does anyone know how medicare tranfers over to any national health programs or how national health programs view expats?

Guest's picture

I am married to a lady from Beihai China. We spend 3 months every summer at our home there. I am going to retire from teaching in the USA in 4 years. I could not live in the USA on my retirement.But in China I will live better then I have ever in the USA on a small retirement fund.It helps that I have learned to speak Chinese. But even before that I always was treated very well by all the Chinese I have met. I now have more friends in China then I ever had in the USA. Great people, great food, and a very friendly place to live.

Guest's picture
David Swift

I have been married to a lovely Lady from Beihai China for 3 years now. My Chinese is very limited but I go out with all my Chinese friends whom speak no English and we do just fine. I spend 3 months every year in Beihai,a very lovely beach city. Food is great.People are very friendly and I will retire there in 3 years when I retire.You can get a "CHINESE GREEN CARD: now if you are married to a Chinese national. Which I am going to apply for this summer when I go back to Beihai. Yoou can also stay in China for more then 90 days if you have a job working there. The Chinese people are very friendly as long as you know and understand their culture. Chinese language is not that hard to learn if you live there and have someone who can help you.I have a friend there who runs a school teaching English.So he is my teacher and I am his for English.You will not find a better place to retire. I am from America and I can live there like a king on my little retirement,but I could never retire if I stayed in the United States.Chinese food is great,nothing like you get in the U.S.A. Which by the way is not Chinese food. I hate coming back to the USA after my 3 months in China ,Chinese are just more friendly then Americans. Plus there laws are inforced. Very little crime compared to any place in America. Chinese show respect,to elders,teachers, and all visitors as long as you understand their culture. No better place to reire to of live in for that matter. I look forward to my life in China.

Guest's picture
Bob Grant

David, My wife is from Zhanjiang, so I visit that coastal area often. I won't be able to retire completely for about four years (although I am probably older than you are - 64). We plan to retire and spend 6-8 months in China each year (the reminder in my home in Iowa City, IA). Obviously, I hope to spend the winter months in China. My Chinese is very poor but slowly improving - right now we live in S. Korea, but I expect that language will get better once living for extended periods in China. Perhaps we could get together sometime.
Bob Grant

Guest's picture
David Swift

Sorry I Made some typing mistakes.OPPS

Guest's picture

I am married to a chinese girl that is now an Aussie Citizen. We own 2, 2 brm units in Southern China and we are buying 5 more one bedrooms, that will cost us about 15,000 AUD. In september this year I am going to leave my job and am selling my unit here in Oz. To retire in China permenently. i got my partner the Oz citizen ship so we can still get the pension in Australia and the medical benifits when we get older, to uphold our chinese lifestyle in China :). As you know I am 32 and I am retiring this year 09. I have been to China and HK 5 times and I have more family and friends there then I have here in Australia. The air is cleaner then Australia, my asma clears up when I am there. the Chinese government is getting rid of all the motorbikes from the major cities to clear up some of the polution and the people are much much more friendlier in China then here in Oz. I am getting a friend to say she is hiring me at one of her schools to immigration, so I only have to update my visa once a year Maximum. I wont have to work but I will probably teach english to young children for a bit of extra RMB. China Rulz, I speak mandarin of course and am still learning cantonese, whcih is much harder. Without the language forget retiring in southern China. No one speaks english in Southern China, it is almost impossible to travel through the country let a lone live there with out the language. i saw one white person per month when I lived there. I loved it !!!

Guest's picture

You would be surprised how much money the Chinese are willing to pay for a fake marriage. :)

Guest's picture

It doesnt matter if you dont know the Chinese culture. The Chinese are very open minded and prefer to learn about yours rather then share theirs with you.

The Dental and Hospitals are massivly cheaper then Australia, the US and the UK.

The people are much nicer kess hypocritical.

Your money streches much further.

The chicks are much thinner and prettier and its like 30 to 1.

The laws are alot less stricter.

Anyone can be bought at a price including jobs, cops, health inspectors, building inspectors and goverment officials.

If your willing to go the extra mile you can make a small fortune by doing a fake marriage, which you will be compensated hansomely.

The food is massivly different and great and cheap.

If your sick of white people go to the remote places and you will be longing to see one after a month, and he will think your crazy after you bable on for an hour with him about nothing. because your just happy to speak fluent english with someone.

If you dont speak the language forget southern china, go to northern China, you wont last five minutes. YOu couldnt even catch a bus a taxi or train, order food or ask where the toilet is. Everything in southern China is written in Chinese and almost no body speaks english. I have been there many many times and luckily I have the language but to start with I didnt and I was like a baby, taking its first breath and I didnt know how and no one was there to teach me.

Beware of getting ripped of especially in southern China, remember there is such a thing as white mans tax. If Its a pair of shoes at 100 RMB you know a local would probably pay 10RMB and do not drink the water from the tap in south China or u wil be in hospital no less then a week :) only drink hot boiled water.

Guest's picture
Bobby Dodd

Obviously, I don't know what part of Southern China you've visited, but your experience in southern China is different from mine. Most young people in China can read English, even though they can't understand spoken English. A pen and notepad work wonders.
My time in Southern China included stays in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Chengdu, as well as HK.

Guest's picture
Bobby Dodd

I'm looking at retiring to China, too. My wife is Chinese and has maintained dual citizenship. I have limited Mandarin but my wife and daughter speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and Sichuanese.
English is taught in every big high school in China. Although many students can read English, most of them have never heard it spoken by westerners. Carrying a pad and pen can bridge the gap without a big problem. I found the pen and pad tactic most useful in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Chengdu and was approached often in public places by young Chinese wanting to try out their English.
Hangzhou has been mentioned as a place where persons with $800 a month USD can live comfortably, and it's only about an hour train ride to Shanghai.

Guest's picture

I live in a mid-sized town in Northeastern China. From time to time I wonder what it would be like if I were to retire here.
Many things are unexpensive (food and most services); renting seems preferable to buying if you need a place as rents are low here. But I am unsure as to how China will look in ten years. Judging from the way the town is being redesigned it will be very unpleasant for someone who has difficulty walking if they keep on widening roads and putting fences to keep people from crossing. Also it is extremely noisy and rather dirty.
If you grew up in a quiet and clean neighborhood you may not make it.
In a smaller town I'd say that it is essential to speak Chinese; not reading Chinese puts you at a disadvantage but not speaking is clearly not an option.
I have over two years of having had mostly good experiences in China but if you come here late it'd be very hard. Moneywise the Yuan has gone up and the dollar down so it is also a bit troubling...
Anyway, come and try living here for a month or two!

/** Fix admin settings safe to ignore showing on unauthenticated user **/